Trafalgar Square is a square in central London, England. With its position in the heart of London, it is a tourist attraction; its trademark is Nelson's Column which stands in the centre and the four lion statues that guard the column. Statues and sculptures are on display in the square, including a fourth plinth displaying changing pieces of contemporary art, and it is a site of political demonstrations.
The name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), a British naval victory of the Napoleonic Wars. The original name was to have been "King William the Fourth's Square", but George Ledwell Taylor suggested the name "Trafalgar Square".
The northern area of the square had been the site of the King's Mews since the time of Edward I, while the southern end was the original Charing Cross, where the Strand from the City met Whitehall, coming north from Westminster. As the midpoint between these twin cities, Charing Cross is to this day considered the heart of London, from which all distances are measured.
In the 1820s the Prince Regent engaged the landscape architect John Nash to redevelop the area. Nash cleared the square as part of his Charing Cross Improvement Scheme. The present architecture of the square is due to Sir Charles Barry and was completed in 1845.
Nelson's Column is in the centre of the square, surrounded by fountains designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1939 (replacing two earlier fountains of Peterhead granite, now at the Wascana Centre and Confederation Park in Canada) and four huge bronze lions sculpted by Sir Edwin Landseer; the metal used is said to have been recycled from the cannon of the French fleet. The column is topped by a statue of Horatio, Viscount Nelson, the admiral who commanded the British Fleet at Trafalgar.
On the north side of the square is the National Gallery and to its east the St Martin's-in-the-Fields church. The square adjoins The Mall via Admiralty Arch to the southwest. To the south is Whitehall, to the east Strand and South Africa House, to the north Charing Cross Road and on the west side Canada House.
At the corners of the square are four plinths; the two northern ones were intended for equestrian statues, and thus are wider than the two southern. Three of them hold statues: George IV (northeast, 1840s), Henry Havelock (southeast, 1861, by William Behnes), and Sir Charles James Napier (southwest, 1855). Mayor of London Ken Livingstone controversially expressed a desire to see the two generals replaced with statues "ordinary Londoners would know".
On the lawn in front of the National Gallery are two statues, James II to the west of the entrance portico and George Washington to the east. The latter statue, a gift from the state of Virginia, stands on soil imported from the United States. This was done in order to honour Washington's declaration he would never again set foot on British soil.
In 1888 the statue of General Charles George Gordon was erected. In 1943 the statue was removed and, in 1953, re-sited on the Victoria Embankment. A bust of the Second World War First Sea Lord Admiral Cunningham by Franta Belsky was unveiled in Trafalgar Square on 2 April 1967 by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The Square has become a social and political location for visitors and Londoners alike, developing over its history from "an esplanade peopled with figures of national heroes, into the country’s foremost place politique," as historian Rodney Mace has written. Its symbolic importance was demonstrated in 1940 when the Nazi SS developed secret plans to transfer Nelson's Column to Berlin following an expected German invasion, as related by Norman Longmate in If Britain Had Fallen (1972).
In 1999, the Royal Society of Arts conceived the Fourth Plinth Project, which temporarily occupied the plinth with a succession of works commissioned from three contemporary artists. These were:
Wallinger's Ecce Homo – the Latin title of which means "Behold the man", a reference to the words of Pontius Pilate at the trial of Jesus Christ (John 19:5) – was a life-sized figure of Christ, naked apart from a loin cloth, with his hands bound behind his back and wearing a crown of barbed wire (in allusion to the crown of thorns). Atop the huge plinth, designed for larger-than-life statuary, it looked minuscule. Some commentators said that, far from making the man look insignificant, his apparent tininess drew the eye powerfully; they interpreted it as a commentary on human delusions of grandeur.
Whiteread's Monument, by an artist already notable for her controversial Turner Prize-winning work House and the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial in Vienna, was a cast of the plinth in transparent resin, and placed upside-down on top of the original. Following the exhibition project, some wished to see it continue in this role.
Various companies have used the plinth (often without permission) as a platform for publicity stunts, including a model of David Beckham by Madame Tussauds during the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The London-based American harmonica player Larry Adler jokingly suggested erecting a statue of Moby-Dick, which would then be called the "Plinth of Whales". A television ident for the British TV station Channel 4 shows a CGI Channel 4 logo on top of the fourth plinth.
The best use of the fourth plinth remains the subject of debate. On 24 March 2003 an appeal was launched by Wendy Woods, the widow of the anti-apartheid journalist Donald Woods, hoping to raise £400,000 to pay for a nine-foot high statue of Nelson Mandela by Ian Walters. The relevance of the location is that South Africa House, the South African high commission, scene of many anti-apartheid demonstrations, is on the East side of Trafalgar Square.
A committee convened to consider the RSA's late-1990s project concluded that it had been a success and "unanimously recommended that the plinth should continue to be used for an ongoing series of temporary works of art commissioned from leading national and international artists". After several years in which the plinth stood empty, the new Greater London Authority assumed responsibility for the fourth plinth and started its own series of changing exhibitions:
In February 2008, Terry Smith, the chief executive of trading house Tullett Prebon, offered to pay more than £100,000 for a permanent statue acceptable to "ordinary Londoners" of Air Chief Marshal Sir Keith Rodney Park in recognition of his work as commander of No. 11 Group RAF during the Battle of Britain, as it was this Group that was responsible for the defence of London. A Greater London Authority spokesman said: "There are many worthy suggestions for statues on the fourth plinth and some people feel passionately about each of them. All proposals will be judged on their merits including its current use as one of the most high profile sites for contemporary public art in London. The cost of erecting the current work on the plinth is £270,000. The cost of a permanent monument is likely to be considerably more.
In 2000, the sale of bird seed in the square was controversially terminated and other measures were introduced to discourage the pigeons, including the use of trained falcons. Supporters of the birds – including Save the Trafalgar Square Pigeons – as well as some tourists continued to feed the birds, but, in 2003, Ken Livingstone enacted byelaws to ban the feeding of pigeons within the square. On 10 September 2007 the byelaws were secured sealing an outright ban on feeding birds in area of the square. There are now few birds in Trafalgar Square and it is used for festivals and hired out to film companies, in a way that was not feasible in the 1990s.
In 2003 the redevelopment of the north side of the square was completed. The work involved permanently closing the main eastbound road there - diverting it around the rest of the square and demolishing part of the wall and building a wide set of stairs. This construction includes two Saxon scissor lifts for disabled access, public toilets, and a small café. Plans for a large staircase had long been discussed, even in original plans for the square. The new stairs lead to a large terrace or piazza in front of the National Gallery, in what was previously a road. Previously access between the square and the Gallery was via two busy crossings at the north east and north west corners of the square. The pedestrianisation plan was carried out in the face of protests from both road-users and pedestrians concerned that the diversion of traffic would lead to greater congestion elsewhere in London. However, this does not seem to have happened; the reduction in traffic due to the London congestion charge may be a factor.
Since its construction, Trafalgar Square has been a venue for political demonstrations, though the authorities have often attempted to ban them. The 1939 fountains were allegedly added on their current scale to reduce the possibility of crowds gathering in the square as they were not in the original plans.
By March of the year Nelson's column opened, the authorities had started banning Chartist meetings in the square. A general ban on political rallies remained in effect until the 1880s, when the emerging Labour movement, particularly the Social Democratic Federation, began holding protests there.
One of the first significant demonstrations of the modern era was held in the square on 19 September 1961 by the Committee of 100, which included the philosopher Bertrand Russell. The protesters rallied for peace and against war and nuclear weapons.
Throughout the 1980s, a continuous anti-apartheid protest was held outside of South Africa House. More recently, the square has hosted the Poll Tax Riots (1990) and anti-war demonstrations opposing the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war.
In the early 21st century, Trafalgar Square has become the location to the climax for victory parades; firstly for the England national rugby union team to celebrate victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup on December 9 2003, and then on September 13 2005, when the climax of the victory parade for the England national cricket team's victory against the Australia national cricket team in The Ashes took place there.
In 2007, Trafalgar Square hosted the opening ceremonies of the Tour de France.
Trafalgar Square was filled with British subjects wanting to hear the formal announcement by Sir Winston Churchill that the war was over. Trafalgar Square was used as a place of celebration and people from all over the country came there.
On Sunday 8 May 2005 the BBC held a concert to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VE Day which was hosted by Eamonn Holmes and Natasha Kaplinsky. Many people who lived during the war attended, and many of the much younger generation, but most importantly many old veterans came and told the stories of their hardships during the six years of war.
Hogmanay at Edinburgh, Scotland has instead been the focus for British New Year celebrations, although since 2005, a firework display centred on London Eye and the South Bank of the Thames, near the square, has given spectators a fitting start to the New Year.
Trafalgar Square is also featured in the comic version of V for Vendetta as the location that the V's meet the army and defeat them, without a single fired shot due to sheer numbers (and the work of the Original V).
The Square was also the location of the successful 'World's Largest Coconut Orchestra' world record attempt on 23 April 2007. The record was set on St George's Day as part of the celebrations, which was followed by a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The World record attempt was linked with the use of coconuts during the film as well as the stage show Spamalot.
In May 2007, the square was grassed over with 2,000 square metres of turf for two days as part of a campaign by London authorities to promote "green spaces" in the city.
In July 2007, the square held a parade and concert for the 60th independence of Pakistan from the British. The event included many legendary sports and celebrity performances and many exhibitions of Pakistan's heritage and culture. It was recorded to be the biggest gathering of expat Pakistanis in the whole of Europe. It was televised live with Geo TV, a private Pakistani television and the High Commission of Pakistan.
Every year on the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October), the Sea Cadet Corps holds a parade in honour of Admiral Lord Nelson and the British victory over the combined fleets of Spain and France at Trafalgar. The Areas of the Sea Cadet Corps are represented by seven 24-cadet platoons, made up of 12 male cadets and 12 female cadets. They represent Eastern Area, London Area, Southern Area, Southwest Area, Northwest Area, Northern Area, and the Marine Cadets. The National Sea Cadet Band also parades, as does a Guard and Colour Party.
Bus routes running through Trafalgar Square:
There is also a Trafalgar Square in Barre, Massachusetts.
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